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Holiday Wines for 2009
The holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s is the perfect time to enjoy your favorite wines, and also to try some new ones. So, relax and enjoy the holidays! Do some planning now, while the seasonal wine sales are on, and you can plan to drink what you enjoy most over the holidays. After all, you’ve earned it!
We start with a challenge, for the traditional Thanksgiving turkey is not an easy fit with wine. The upside of that dilemma is that there is no “right” wine to serve. Turkey is not one of those meats that is automatically associated with any particular wine. Our American family Thanksgiving is a celebration of plenty, available to nearly everyone. It’s appropriate that wines that go with it best are neither overly expensive nor hard to find. The Pilgrims would probably approve. (They would probably also have served ale or beer.)
Turkey is a mild meat and offers a rather neutral backdrop for wines. We have recently enjoyed a sturdy white Alsatian wine, such as a Hugel Riesling 2007 ($17.99), with our Thanksgiving dinner. But, the stuffing may suggest a palate of flavor contrasts. If your turkey is accompanied by sausage or chestnut stuffing, including the assertive herb sage, for example, a spicier wine, such as Trimbach’s Gewurztraminer 2005 ($17.49) might be a good choice. But don’t rule out serving a wine with a more festive background, such as a nonvintage French champagne, or American sparkling wine. We enjoy Taittinger’s Brut “La Française” ($31.99), or Korbel’s ( $12.50). There is an entire range of champagnes, and a light one would probably go best with a traditionally heavy meal.
If you are not serving turkey, vary your wine choices accordingly. A crown roast of pork would go well with a Loire Valley white wine. Try marinating it with Vouvray wine, then roast it with apples or prunes and some thyme, adding a bit more wine from time to time to pan brown it. Ask your wine retailer about Vouvray wines. Unless you get into limited producton wines, $10-$12 should buy a nice bottle. But be careful. They tend to be rather sweet.
With baked ham, a medium-dry white wine of character would be a good choice. Here, I would suggest an Alsatian Pinot Gris, such as an Albrecht “Romanus” 2007 ($15.99). Another good choice might be a fine rosé wine, such as Sasha Lichine’s Château D’Esclans “Whispering Angel” 2008 ($17.99). That wine, or the Gewurztraminer mentioned previously, would go nicely with the ham, particularly if it is a glazed ham, or served with a brown sugar and raisin sauce.
Let’s not forget the Sauternes with Thanksgiving dessert. A little goes a long way, and we usually open a bottle for Thanksgiving to have with those three desserts. Then the bottle kept well chilled will often last through the holiday season. The 2001 vintage is excellent. You may wish to start with a half bottle of 2001 Clos Haut Peyraguey ($29.99), Coutet ($27.99), or Rayne Vigneau ($24.99). And a half bottle of the superb Château de Fargues ($49.99: $99 for a full bottle), made by Château D’Yquem’s legendary former owner, Count Alexandre de Lur Saluces, might be your choice over the same vintage for Château D’Yquem ($349 for a half bottle).
Let’s skip to Christmas dinner. Before dinner, you’ll want something to cleanse the palate. Chablis is the answer, and William Fèvre’s “Les Champs Royaux” 2007 ($18.99) is a compliment to your guests. If you are serving roast beef, or leg of lamb, a sturdy Bordeaux would go well. I hope you have a mature Bordeaux to serve, from your cellar. A fine bottle of the 1990 or 1995 vintage would be perfect right about now. If you don’t have a cellar, perhaps that might be your New Year’s Resolution! If price is not an object, I found a 1990 Château Cos d’Estournel ($271) and a 1995 Château Palmer ($205) on sale in Washington.
Current Bordeaux vintages are pricey, but there are still a few well-priced bottles for the careful consumer. The best bargain I’ve located is Château Poujeaux 2000 ($34.99). This was the favorite wine of the late French President Pompidou. For second wines from superb properties, at a fraction of the price for the grand vin, try Bahans Haut Brion 2001, or “Le Sarget” de Gruaud Larose 2000, each wine costing $44.99.
New Year’s Eve
I’m not forgetting the champagne for New Year’s Eve. What you prefer depends upon your own palate, whether a light champagne (Taittinger) or a full-bodied one (Pol Roger), or something in between the two (Veuve Clicquot). You can get very good nonvintage champagnes from any of these houses for $35 or less. Their vintage champagnes, blanc de blancs, or rosé champagnes can cost up to four times that, and more. I’m not sure that New Year’s Eve, often a mob scene, is a time for rare and expensive champagnes anyway. Better wait until it is just the two of you to savor a bottle of vintage Dom Perignon, at $110 a bottle at least.
New Year’s Day
For New Year’s Day dinner, gamey dishes are traditional, such as a roast goose or duck. Without a cellar, for Burgundy lovers, I would set a budget per bottle, and then get the best village or communal appellation of a recent vintage that you can find for the money, in consultation with your wine retailer. A fine Jadots Nuits St. Georges 2005 ($39.99) would give much pleasure, as would a Savigny les Beaune-Girard Premier Cru (Hospices de Beaune) 2005 ($44.99). A good Hautes Côtes de Beaune or Côtes de Nuit Villages from the fine 2007 vintage would cost $30 or so, and afford much drinking enjoyment.
You may wish to explore the recent fine vintages of Châteauneuf du Pape. The 2007 is thought to be extraordinary, but since there have been a number of fine vintages recently, such as the 2005, the 2000 and the 1998, you may with a bit of luck find that your wine retailer is offering some earlier vintages on sale, to make room for the latest vintage. That would work to your advantage in several ways, freeing up an earlier vintage to serve now, and giving you some of the 2007 to age for future fine occasions. Also, magnums are often available, and themselves convey a festive atmosphere for your guests. You might choose a magnum of Font de Michelle “Etienne Gonnet” 2005 (well priced at $59.99), for example,or a magnum of Vatican “Sixtine” 2005 ($79.99)
You will of course want to savor a cognac after dinner. Here, older is better (and more expensive). As to a spirit’s age, the various VS and VSOP cognacs, for example, are flavorful, but often a bit on the harsh side. Mellower by far are the XO cognacs, which are required to be aged a minimum of 25 years, and fine cognac houses use that as a minimum, not a standard. Better make sure this is on your own Christmas list, at $90 plus a bottle. However, I have recently found Remy Martin’s 1738 “Accord Royal” a fine cognac, nuanced with layers of smooth flavor, and at $47.99, a comparative bargain. You might enjoy it as well.
Photo credit: Loic Le Meur/Flickr. Creative Commons license.
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